"No one is free when others are oppressed." That poignant saying is proudly touted on a banner that Mercy For Animals has been marching behind at gay pride events throughout the country for many years. It's a stark reminder to those in the gay community that their issues are part of a continuum. And a reminder to everyone that animals are on the agenda.
I recently wrote an article for The Scavenger entitled "Gay rights and animal rights: intersections," which delved into my personal experiences as a lesbian vegan, and explored the similar rationale used to marginalize both groups - animals and queer people. This was my latest attempt to work through the implications of something that I have always felt on a gut level: All oppression - whether the oppression of animals, sexual minorities, racial or ethnic minorities, or fill-in-the-oppressed-group-here - is, on some level, rooted in a similar mentality of "othering" - attempting to justify oppression by focusing on arbitrary differences between "us" and "them."
The common theme in the mentality of the oppressor, like the mentality of a bully, is that "might makes right." Bullies think that having power over others, be it physical strength or political might, justifies discarding the inherent rights or significant interests of others for their own personal gain. Regardless of whether we are talking about a schoolyard bully, a racist, a sexist, a heterosexist or even a speciesist, one can see a very clear thought process with similar justification for the exploitation or oppression of others. And it is this mindset that needs to be challenged, regardless of the specific social justice issue.
I am so inspired by the work that Mercy For Animals does within the gay community, and everywhere else, to make this truth more evident. No one articulates these issues better than Nathan Runkle, and one of my favorite moments in the crazy, wonderful two years since the organization I co-founded, Our Hen House, started its work was the day I got to film Nathan explaining all the reasons he feels so strongly about both of these issues. Indeed, Nathan launched our Gay Animal series, and his insights were refreshing and motivating.
Fighting for justice is the most fulfilling, meaningful work in the world, but doing so without a view toward all who need justice, and while wearing the blinders created by our own privilege, is, ultimately, an empty gesture. And you know why? Because no one is free while others are oppressed.
Jasmin Singer is the director and co-founder of Our Hen House, a multimedia hive of opportunities to change the world for animals. She is a contributing writer for VegNews Magazine, and the former campaigns manager for Farm Sanctuary. Jasmin lives in NYC with her partner, animal rights law professor Mariann Sullivan, and their perfect pit bull, Rose. Check out her weekly podcast.
Bonus! If you are in the area, don't miss an upcoming workshop in NYC on September 14 led by Jasmin and MFA's Director of Operations Matt Rice, which will further explore the connections between social justice movements. For more details and to RSVP, email NYC Campaign Coordinator Eddie Garza.